“Life had taught her that stability wasn’t to be found outside on the streets. That as soon as you get used to how others live, everything changes.”
Wilder Winds, by Bel Olid (translated by Laura McGloughlin), is a collection of sixteen short stories exploring the myriad conditions under which families and individuals must live. These are stories of the young and the old, of the contented and the displaced. One theme running though is how little control any person has over changing circumstances, and how they must adapt if they are to survive.
Some of the most powerful stories are those that bring to the fore comparisons in how people of similar age end up existing, often due to the accident of birth. In the opening story two young girls meet when one is thrust unexpectedly into the other’s home. The reader is shown how shadowed a life can become when surrounded by illness.
“she was such a spirited contrast to my dry, sick, elderly mother, but I was struck by the image of the splendid woman before the mirror”
The lasting impact on children of chance encounters occurs again in Red. A young girl walks in, unseen, to observe a birth, that leads to a death.
Other stories portray the lives of refugees who must live for years in basic camps while being processed. As well as the effect this has on inmates, there is the difficulty faced by staff and volunteers when they start to care about individuals. A humane response brings with it its own pain.
This type of pain is evoked brilliantly in Three. A mother of triplets works with the children of convicted criminals. To survive her job she must retain emotional distance. In working long hours she worries about the breach this creates within her own family.
Invisible tells of an undocumented worker living a hand to mouth existence. In detailing her day the reader is shown a life revolving around survival, amongst those who choose to look away.
There are stories about the impact of conflict. At times an uprising can be euphoric. There are also tragedies.
Linda tells of the everyday conflicts women face by simply existing in public spaces. When one young women responds with unexpected violence, the media reaction is one of surprise.
“‘We still don’t know why the young woman reacted this way,’ say the police officers in charge of the investigation. Yes, that’s the problem right there, thinks Lola; they really don’t understand.”
As well as writing of the complexities of relationships – of shifting dynamics over time – the stories tell of love, duty and occasional irritation. The voices are often visceral yet beautifully rendered. I was particularly touched by Anna, Anne, Anna, in which a young girl finds a book that changes her.
In Plus Ultra, the author makes a brief foray into the supernatural.
In Cabaret the body of an obese woman who enjoyed her size is inhabited. In losing weight, she feels she has lost some essential part of herself.
“me singing and dancing and laughing. Round, full of curves and complexities me, splendid and happy me, imposing my body wherever I went. Me taking up all the space needed and more.”
Although important issues are explored, the stories are about the people living with the effects of what is happening around them more than the whys and wherefores. The writing style is taut but also tender, characters are nuanced and portrayed with sympathy.
This is, quite simply, a stunning collection that I am now eager to recommend. Another fine read from the Fum d’Estampa Press.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher.